Penny Wells' Hidden Gems

Those words echo in my job description…. find Australia’s hidden unique locations and explore. I am extremely fortunate that for two months of the year I live a nomadic lifestyle with 4WD and camper in tow. There is nothing exclusive or extraordinary in what I do, anyone can follow in my wheel tracks. The biggest obstacle you will have to
overcome is procrastination.

A key factor in ensuring that your 4WD holiday becomes a reality is to set a date. Grab a calendar and start planning. Otherwise life gets in the way and those trips that you’ve been dreaming of for years just slip away. To help you start planning and pick a destination here are four of my favourite hidden gems for you to discover.


Ruin City

Located approximately 100km North East of Ngukurr these incredible sandstone pillars are one of my most recent gems to explore. On a stunning humid 35 degree day in June 2016 with our Aboriginal guide, Emmanuel, we were the first in three years to drive into this location. At times the track is extremely faint and with additional tracks diverting off in many directions we would never have found our way without Emmanuel. I admire the Aboriginals in the way they sing songs as they travel which is how they remember which direction to head.

Along the way you will cross paths with buffalo and emu and will be in and out of 4WD high for most of the way. It will take a solid day to get in and out. And as the sun was setting I laid my eyes on the magnificent sandstone pillar formations. I have seen many ‘lost cities’ in my travels but this one takes the cake. Looking at the arial footage we shot whilst filming there shows the true perspective of the expanses of these pillars, so wide and with a length of about 14 kilometres they are impressive. What fascinated me was that the local’s say there is still a tribe in this area that has no contact. An incredible place to put on your bucket list.


Butterfly Gorge

The beautiful name definitely gives this one away, you’ll find it 150 Kilometres north of Katherine. And whilst you can’t camp at the Gorge you will enjoy staying at the Douglas Hot Springs approx. 20 kilometres away. It’s a short drive into the Gorge and recommended for 4WD only. Depending on what time of year that you visit will vary the water levels of the plunge pool at the base of a small waterfall lined with towering red sandstone cliffs.

To get to the Gorge we had to first swim across a creek lower down. I’m not going to lie, that water was brackish and I was keeping my eyes peeled for oversized lizards, even if they were freshies! After a few casts in the main pool with my trusty travel rod that I insisted on bringing much to my husband’s dismay (he likes to travel light) my reel
spun off and a Barra burst from the silent water. He was a good size, I was a tad excited about this catch and whilst trying to remove the lure the fish gill raked my leg and left behind a nasty cut and my two fingers pinned together by the treble hook! But it’s all part of the journey as one of my good friends always quotes. Butterly Gorge is a sensational place to day trip to whilst camping at Douglas Daly.


Trevethan Falls

No trip to Cape York is complete without stopping at Cooktown. And only a short distance from this coastal town is Trevethan Falls. Mostly frequented by the locals you can usually have this little slice of paradise to yourself. Again you will need a 4WD to access it. Heading north you drive past Black Mountain and take Amos Bay turn off from Mulligan Highway 13.5 kilometres south of Cooktown. After a short walk following the creek that is dense with foliage and vines you will arrive at a deep swimming hole complete with a waterfall with mist in the air as the water travels down the cliff face. There are plenty of big boulders to sun bake on and it makes for an excellent afternoon chill


Poppy’s Pools

I do love a good place to swim especially in the NT they are not hard to find as they are everywhere but finding one that you’re not sharing with a salt water croc can be difficult. An all time favourite of mine is Poppy’s Pools located on Bohemia Downs Station approx. 75 kilometres from Cape Crawford in NT. These pools are on Aboriginal land and you will need permission to visit and pay a fee. It is worth the effort and I’ll explain why.

A short drive from the homestead takes you to a 4WD tack lined by Pandanus palms and rocky sections. At the end you wonder why the heck you bothered to come here as you are greeted by swampy long grass. As I was pondering this very thought I looked over and spotted a beat up old tinnie that looked like it had come down the waterfall itself.
Gingerly pushing the boat into the small creek, after a quick spider check, I wasn’t sure if it was actually going to float. To my amazement it held together as we rowed up stream. The creek widened and our jaws began to drop…. we were surrounded by brilliant green Pandanus and cliff faces lighting up to an earthy orange in the afternoon sun.

We eventually came to another level in the creek and this is where we hauled the tinnie up onto the rock bar. Walking up a reasonable rock incline the country opened up to a breath taking emerald green plunge pool that is thermal, complete with a thermal waterfall exploding into it. Good thing I had my floaty with me which everybody wanted a turn at because we spent so many hours swimming in the warmth of the plunge pool. We reluctantly turned our backs on the waterfall as darkness fell and we rowed back in the dodgiest tinnie I’ve ever seen to camp and enjoyed a camp fire dinner discussing what a truly unique place Poppy’s Pools was.


Penny Wells

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